Dozens injured as Palestinians across West Bank, Gaza and Israel commemorate Land Day

Palestinians across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory held protests and marches on Thursday for Land Day — the day in 1976 when Israel confiscated approximately 21,000 dunums of historic Palestinian land across Israel, sparking widespread protests that lead to the death of six young Palestinians at the hands of Israeli forces.

Israeli forces suppressed multiple protests in the West Bank, leading to the injury of dozens of peaceful Palestinian protesters.

Protests turn violent in West Bank

Fifty Palestinians were injured with rubber-coated steel bullets while dozens others suffered from severe tear-gas inhalation as Israeli forces suppressed a march in the Madama village in southwestern Nablus in the northern West Bank. The protest was held near the village’s land that had been seized by the Israeli government to construct the illegal Israeli Yitzhar settlement.

The Palestinian Red Crescent told Ma’an that among the injured were deputy governor of Nablus Anan al-Atiri and member of the People’s Party politburo Khalid Mansour.

Protesters set off from the southern area of the village and walked towards the Yitzhar settlement with the intention of planting trees on the village’s confiscated lands.

Ihab Tahsin, a member of the Madama village council, told Ma’an “we plant these lands so our children will grow up remembering their lands and continue planting them so one day the lands will return to us.”

The governor of Nablus, Akram al-Rjoub, told Ma’an that “today we need to be in our lands, to boost our resistance and existence in the area and to empower popular resistance against the Israeli occupation forces and settlers.”

An Israeli army spokesperson said that “hundreds of Palestinians participated in a violent riot in Madama, where they threw rocks at Israeli security forces and members of a local Jewish community,” referring to the Yitzhar settlement, according to Ma’an.

“In response, security forces engaged in riot dispersal measures, including the use of rubber bullets and tear gas.”

The spokesperson did not comment on the dozens of Palestinians injured during the protests.

Israeli forces also suppressed a march in the southern occupied West Bank district of Bethlehem, as locals protested in commemoration of Land Day.

Locals in the town of Beit Jala set off from the Arab Orthodox Club and headed towards the Israeli separation wall, which cuts through Palestinian lands in Beit Jala in order to separate the town from Israel’s illegal Gilo and Har Gilo settlements, also constructed on Palestinian lands in the area.

Israeli forces fired tear gas and sound bombs at lawyers, activists and members of the Palestinian education ministry who participated in the march.

An Israeli army spokesperson said they were looking into reports.

In the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron, Israeli forces detained four Palestinian activists Thursday afternoon during a demonstration for Land Day in Hebron city near the illegal Israeli settlement of Kiryat Arba.

The detainees were activists from the Defending Hebron Committee, and were identified by locals as  Anas Samir Daana, activist at Defenders of Human Rights Badie al-Dweik, Head of the Committee against the Wall and Settlements in the Southern West Bank Younes Arrar, and activist Ishaq al-Khatib.

The demonstration was organized by the National Campaign to End the Siege on Central Hebron. Head of the campaign Muhannad al-Jaabari said that the Land Day activity was centered on planting trees in the Wadi al-Hassin area near Kiryat Arba.

Activists then protested at the main road closed by Israel and demanded free movement for Palestinians in the city.

Al-Jaabari added that Israeli forces and settlers obstructed the way, preventing activists from reaching the area and later declared the area a closed military zone before detaining the activists.

Activist Hisham Sharabati, meanwhile, said that several Israeli settlers attacked the Palestinian protesters, grabbing Palestinian flags and assaulting protesters, as Israeli forces and border guards did not intervene.

Several Palestinian towns and villages in Israel’s southern Negev region — which was one of three regions, along with central Israel and the northern Galilee, subject to the mass land confiscation in 1976 — organized events to “honor the blood of slain Palestinians” and to stress their “right to defend Palestinian land against Israeli apartheid policies.”

In the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran, which has been the site of deadly home demolition raids this year, locals uncovered a memorial for slain Palestinian Yaqoub Abu al-Qian, a local math teacher who was killed by Israeli police on January 18 during a demolition raid in the village.

Local committees organized several events in the village, including planting olive trees and renovating old houses. The events concluded Thursday afternoon with the unveiling of al-Qian’s memorial.

The high committee in the village said in a statement that this year’s land day came amid “soaring Israeli aggression and racism against determined Palestinians in the Negev by continuing demolitions and attempts to expel residents from their homes.”

“Unfair arrogance reached its highest point on Jan.18 with the killing of al-Qian, who was shot in cold blood by Israeli security forces who also prevented ambulance crews from approaching al-Qian for hours, leading him to join the constellation of Palestinian martyrs,” the statement continued, calling upon all Palestinians to honor the soul of al-Qian and to help “strengthen the determination of Palestinian people in Negev.”

Meanwhile in Sakhnin city, located in the lower Galilee, protesters from the city and surrounding areas marched on Thursday afternoon to the memorials and family homes of the six young Palestinians who were slain on March 30, 1976.

Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset Ayman Odeh and Masoud Ghanayem, and former MK Basel Ghattas, also participated in the protest.

Odeh, head of the the Joint List political bloc — representing parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in Israel’s parliament — spoke at the events, saying “ the immortal Land Day is the most critical day of our people since 1948.”

“After Land Day, our situation became better, we increased our resistance and held our heads higher than days before Land Day. Therefore, the martyrdom of Raja Abu Rayya, Khader Khalaily, Khadija Shawarni, Khair Yassin and Muhsen Taha, Rafat al-Zheiri had a meaning,” said Odeh, referring to the six slain Palestinians, “they were martyred but remained alive to God and in the souls of their people.”

Peaceful protests in Gaza

Palestinians of various political factions also joined in protest across the besieged Gaza Strip on Thursday.

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) organized a protest in the southern city of Rafah near an “isolated security zone” where lands are under threat of confiscation by Israel.

Protesters held Palestinian flags and signs and called for basic civil and human rights for Palestinians, while also calling on the entire Palestinian and international community to “stand in the face of Israeli procedures of confiscating and judaizing Palestinian lands.”

Member of DFLP’s leadership in the Rafah governorate Ibrahim Abu Hamid spoke at the protest, where he stressed the importance of the right of return for Palestinians forcibly displaced from their lands, saying “Palestinian land is the core of the Palestinian conflict with the Israeli occupation and its colonial projects.”

Protesters planted several olive saplings near the border fence east of Rafah at the end of the protest.

In the northern Gaza Strip, hundreds of Palestinians participated in an event organized by different religious and Islamic movements in Gaza near the Erez crossing on the border with Israel.

Participants held Palestinian flags and chanted slogans calling for Palestinian national rights, while Hamas leader Mushir al-Masri spoke at the protest saying “we are commemorating this anniversary to confirm on the unity of Palestinians people, land and faith.”

Al-Masri addressed Israel, saying “the Israeli occupation must understand that Palestinian people are determined to achieve their rights and the liberation of Palestinian land and holy places.”

Al-Masri also directed a message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying that Netanyahu “will not see his soldiers until all Palestinian prisoners of all factions are released from Israeli prisons,” referring to Israeli soldiers captured by Hamas forces who are believed to be held in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that since its occupation of the West Bank in 1967, Israel has classified nearly 40 percent of the Palestinian territory as Israeli state land, which has been used for the benefit of Jewish settlers and illegal settlements.

Wafa quoted Ola Awad, president of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), who released a statement on Wednesday, saying that “while Israel has built hundreds of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, about 48 percent of the built up area of Israeli settlements are located on privately-owned Palestinian land.”

“In 2016, the Israeli occupation authorities ratified 115 new settlement master plans, which include the construction of over 5,000 housing units in Israeli settlements in the West Bank,” Awad said.

While Israel has continued to demolish Palestinian structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem at record-high rates, the state has approved the construction of thousands of housing units in illegal Israeli settlements.

In East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities demolished 309 buildings during 2016, while they demolished 714 structures in the West Bank.

“The demolitions in Jerusalem and the West Bank led to the displacement of more than 1,620 Palestinians, half of them children,” Awad said.